According to a 2016 study, about 22% of older adults in the United States can be considered elder orphans or solo agers, or are at risk of becoming one. The first group—elder orphans—are older people who don’t have a spouse or children they can depend upon, while solo agers are older adults who are living alone and don’t have children. In either case, this is a population of older people who don’t have a safety net if they need support, whether that’s physical, emotional or practical.
This is, as an article in the Washington Post points out, a particularly vulnerable group, one without a family member to watch out for their well-being. In a survey of 500 elder orphans, for example, nearly 70% of them hadn’t identified a friend or family caregiver who could help them if they had health problems, while 35% didn’t have friends or family who could help them with challenges.
Concerns expressed and experiences shared by people included:
- Fear of losing their housing: one-quarter of them
- Not having enough money (at least once over the past year) to meet basic needs: 23%
- Not having a secure financial future: 31%
- Depression: 40%
- Anxiety: 37%
- Loneliness: 52%
In other words, many are woefully unprepared and stressed out over their current situation, as well as over what the future may bring. So, what can solo agers without family support do?
An article in NextAvenue.org is calling for policymakers to focus on creating solutions for older adults, especially solo agers. This could include, as one example, safe and affordable public transportation so that older adults without family support can continue to engage with other people.
For people in the solo ager population, it’s especially important to think about legal guardianship issues, or “someone who will take over in a fiduciary capacity if they are unable to make decisions for themselves. That person may be a relative or a friend or even a professional fiduciary or private guardian. Of course, everyone needs the legal protection of a healthcare directive and an estate plan, but Solo Agers have a heightened need to have those in place while they are still relatively young and healthy since no adult child will be rushing in from the hinterlands to provide that assistance and guidance.”
The American Bar Association is therefore discussing the question of paid healthcare surrogates for older adults who are single and childless. The Baby Boomer generation, they point out, dropped off their tax information to accountants and used consultants for services. Some pay to have their groceries delivered — and so professional decision-makers may be a natural next step for people without a family caregiver, one that may become more available as the demand increases.
Also, a private Facebook group exists for elder orphans. Here is part of the group’s description: “The group is restricted to individuals over 55 who live without the help of a spouse, partner and children. If you feel you're aging alone, with little support, you belong.”
Other solutions for older people without friends or family to help them can include living in a continuing care retirement community, if they can afford that, or some other form of assisted living arrangement. Another includes “adopting a family” that you trust, giving someone in that family your power of attorney.
Or, as another options, there is aging in place.
Aging in Place
Solo agers can benefit from Kendal at Home’s program. Since opening in 2004, only one out of more than 250 members has permanently gone to a nursing home facility. We make aging in place possible — and enjoyable — through a combination of a continuum of care and our life plan coordination team. Our Life Plan Coordinators work with you to develop a plan that offers support for all stages of life and all levels of care. You’ll receive the safety and security you desire, and you’ll remain the decision-maker. Your team will be your advocate and liaison in helping you execute your plan, ensuring you thrive at home.
For more information, you can register for a free seminar.